This isn’t the first time that Kim Jong-un has gone missing but it’s just the North Korean leader is breaking his own record by staying out of the public eye for this long.
His father. Kim Jong-il, “went missing” for up to 80 days when he reportedly had a stroke in 2008. And a potential health issue remains the most likely reason for Kim Jong-un’s notable absence.
“No one knows why Kim Jong-un is out of sight, but he has been the most public of the three dynastic leaders,” Katherine Moon, a senior fellow for the Center for East Asia Policy Studies, told ABC News, referring to the line of leadership that began with Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung.
Moon said that Kim Jong-un’s increasing weight, alcoholism, heart or ankle problems and stress are all among the health factors that could be ailing him, though nothing has been confirmed. “He may also be facing personal challenges — he does have a family — a wife and at least one child. Perhaps there is illness or some other problem. Again, who knows?” Moon said.
North Korea expert Michael Madden, who runs a leadership watch blog and contributes to Johns Hopkins University’s Korean Studies site, told ABC News that there were two other times that he has gone missing since taking control of the country following his father’s death in December 2011. “There’s no reason to really think it was his health back then,” Madden said. “He was more muscular than he is now.”
One factor that makes Kim Jong-un’s ongoing absence different from the rest of the dictatorial pack is his age. Though his health is clearly a cause for concern — since he has grown noticeably larger and was seen limping in his last public appearance — his age makes the prospect of a grave medical issue less of a concern.
The Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper, reported on Tuesday, citing an unnamed source, that Kim had fractured both of his ankles and had surgery in Pyongyang in the middle of September to treat them.
When Kim Jong-il is believed to have had his stroke in 2008, North Korean press officials did their best to prevent any admission of ill health. Madden said that officials claimed Kim Jong-il attended two public events during his roughly 80-day absence, though there were no photos taken at one event and the images released from the second were believed to be doctored.